Larger Public interest does not mean that which is interesting as gratifying curiosity or love of information or amusement

Larger Public Interest

Larger Public Interest

A mere allegation of evasion by Smt Sonia Gandhi cannot be construed to fall under larger public interest of RTI Act 2005. Public interest does not mean that which is interesting as gratifying curiosity or love of information or amusement; but that in which a class of the community have a pecuniary interest, or some interest by which their rights or liabilities are affected.

Further the commission stated that “whenever the querist applicant wishes to seek information, the disclosure of which can be made only upon existence of certain special circumstances, for example- the existence of larger public interest, the querist should in the application (moved under Section 6 of the Act) disclose/ plead the special circumstance, so that the PIO concerned can apply his mind to it, and, in case he decides to issue notice to the concerned third party under Section 11 of the Act, the third party is able to effectively deal with the same. Only then the PIO/appellate authority/CIC would be able to come to an informed decision whether, or not, the special circumstances exist in a given case.”

Larger Public Interest

Earlier Vide RTI dt 12.11.11, appellant had sought copies of ITRs and balance sheet submitted by Smt Sonia Gandhi for the period 2000-2011.CPIO vide letter dt 5.12.11, observed that the information sought relates to personal information, the disclosure of which has no relationship to any public interest and disclosure of which would cause unwarranted invasion of privacy of the assessee and hence information was denied u/s 8(1)(j).

CPIO stated that “a notice u/s 11 of the RTI Act was sent to the third party, who had objected to disclosure of private information as it would amount to unwarranted invasion of the individual’s privacy. It was further observed that as there was no overriding public interest involved, the request was rejected u/s 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act.”

The contention of the appellant before the CIC was that there is evasion of tax as evident from the affidavit filed by her before the Election Commission in 2004. As such there is larger public interest in disclosure of the Returns. The CIC has in turn quoted that:

“The Hon’ble Supreme Court in the case of Girish Ramchandra Deshpande has held that details disclosed by a person in his Income Tax Returns are ‘personal
information’ which stands exempt from disclosure u/s 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act unless it involves larger public interest and the CPIO or the AA is satisfied that the larger public interest justifies the disclosure of such information.”

The Hon’ble High Court in the case of UPSC Vs RK Jain decided on 13.7.2012, has defined public interest as follows:
“25. “Public interest” is also a ground for taking away the exemption from disclosure of personal information. Therefore, a querist may seek personal information of a person from a public authority in public interest. The second half of the first part of clause (j) of Section 8(1) shows that when personal information in respect of a person is sought, the authority concerned shall weigh the competing claims i.e., the claim for the protection of personal information of the concerned person on the one hand, and the claim of public interest on the other, and if “public interest” justifies disclosure, i.e., the public interest  outweighs the need for protection of personal information, the concerned authority shall disclose the information.
26. For example, a querist may seek from the income tax authorities- the details of the income tax returns filed by private individual/juristic entity – if the querist can justify the disclosure of such personal information on the anvil of public interest. The authorities would, in such cases, be cautious to ensure that the ground of “public interest” is not routinely used as a garb by busy bodies to pry on the personal affairs of individual private citizens/entities, as it would be against public interest (and not in public interest) to permit such personal information of third parties to fall into the hands of anybody or everybody.

227. At this stage, I may digress a little and observe that whenever the querist applicant wishes to seek information, the disclosure of which can be made only upon existence of certain special circumstances, for example- the existence of public interest, the querist should in the application (moved under Section 6 of the Act) disclose/ plead the special circumstance, so that the PIO concerned can apply his mind to it, and, in case he decides to issue notice to the concerned third party under Section 11 of the Act, the third party is able to effectively deal with the same. Only then the PIO/appellate authority/CIC would be able to come to an informed decision whether, or not, the special circumstances exist in a given case.
28. I may also observe that public interest does not mean that which is interesting as gratifying curiosity or love of information or amusement; but that in which a class of the community have a pecuniary interest, or some interest by which their rights or liabilities are affected. The expression “public interest” is not capable of a precise definition and has not a rigid meaning and is elastic and takes its colors from the statute in which it occurs, the concept varying with the time and the state of the society and its needs. [See Advanced Law Lexicon, Third Edition].”

9. A mere allegation of evasion cannot be construed as larger public interest. The Commission concurs with the decision of the CPIO/AA.

More discussions over forum

  1. http://www.rtiindia.org/forum/114318-new-file-added-asset-details-only-when-larger-public-interest.html
  2. http://www.rtiindia.org/forum/113550-rti-question-what-public-interest-relation-rti.html
  3. http://www.rtiindia.org/forum/112639-public-interest-vs-private-interest.html
Posted in CIC Decisions, Section 8 (1)(j)
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  1. […] CPIO, o/o CIT(CCA) Kanpur vide letter dt 6.5.13, transferred the RTI to Commissioner, IT-2 , Kanpur, who vide letter dt 9.5.13, transferred it to CPIO, o/o Addl CIT, Range 6, Kanpur. Vide letter dt 14.5.13, the RTI was transferred to ACIT- VI, Kanpur for providing a response to the appellant directly. CPIO/ACIT-VI vide letter dt 4.6.13, informed appellant that in terms of the order of the Supreme Court in the case of Girish Ramchandra Deshpande, the information sought is not in wider public interest and hence the same was denied. The Commission concurs with the decision of the public authority in denying the information u/s 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act in the light of the decision of the Hon’ble Supreme Court in the case of Girish Ramchandra Deshpande. […]

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